Christina School District’s Very Dangerous Game With Equity Could Backfire On Them

One of the reasons I have always admired the Christina School District is because they don’t have magnet schools or choice schools within their district.  That could change tomorrow night when the Christina Board of Education will vote on a proposal to expand the Honors program at Christiana High School from a 9th-12th grade program to a 6th-12th grade program.  I understand the why behind it as the district has empty seats in some of their buildings and they will be forced to consolidate at some point.  But this… I can’t get behind it.

Before I get into why I can’t support this, let me explain why they are doing it.  Christina, over the past fifteen years, has lost a ton of students to charter schools.  I truly believe the district wants to let go of the past and start offering richer programs to keep students in the district and to hopefully lure students back from the charters.  As well, they are losing honors students to Dickinson High School in Red Clay who offers an International Baccalaureate program.  Eventually, the Christina students in Wilmington issue will be resolved one way or another and Christina will lose those students.  The district has to make some major changes if they want to survive in the next decade.

But this idea is not good.  First off, I don’t think it is a wise idea to place middle school students in a high school setting.  Developmentally, they are not on the same level playing field.  By osmosis, these students will be exposed to things they are not ready for.  There is a reason students in public education are at elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools.  To make matters worse, the plan would call for this to start with 6th graders only for the next school year and by 2019 all 6th-8th grade students participating in this program would be integrated as students at a high school.  This cohort of 6th graders are going to have a very difficult time at a building with peers who are far older than them.

Furthermore, what happens when all the honors students leave the existing middle schools in the district?  That will leave a higher concentration of students who have larger needs.  Our current state accountability system for schools will place those schools with a bulls-eye on them when test scores come out.  If anyone thinks the Every Student Succeeds Act is going to take care of that they are deluding themselves.  It will set up an irreversible system of discrimination and segregation all over again, within their own district.  That is something all schools in Delaware should be steering away from, not towards.

This program would have smaller “cohorts” which would mean smaller class sizes.  I am all for that but it has to be done across the board.  There are existing classrooms in elementary and middle schools that do not have enough support in this district but teachers are forced to handle large classrooms with no support whatsoever.  But giving this preference to students who would most likely be considered talented and gifted while not giving those same choices to other students with just as much need if not more is just reinventing the discrimination wheel.  I’m not saying talented and gifted students shouldn’t be given those benefits, but I am saying if that benefit exists it needs to happen for all students.  No one wins in the large classroom scenario with one teacher.

The State of Delaware, and more specifically, the General Assembly, needs to look at the state school choice law.  While the intent may have been honorable in the beginning, it has morphed into pockets of segregation across the state.  Some are big and some are small, but they exist.  While charter schools take the brunt of the shots fired at these practices, many districts are setting up programs within their own districts that are dividing students.  Take the World Language Immersion program as an example.  In my day, you took a language.  They didn’t put a fancy name on it and start teaching Kindergartners Chinese or Spanish.  While I do think it is good for students to learn a second language, and possibly a third depending on their abilities, we are already seeing school districts around the state dealing with issues of segregation between the smarter kids and those with higher needs based on this program.  This isn’t even inequity, it is also inequality.  When you have both, it is a recipe for disaster for the overall educational health of a state.  This example is not just affecting New Castle County schools.  Districts in Kent and Sussex County are having these issues as well.  But their boards and administration don’t seem to be addressing what is happening within their own schools.

I don’t know what the solution is, but this isn’t it.  I don’t understand why they wouldn’t attempt to instill those honors programs in the schools they have now.  If they need to combine some schools and possibly sell old property that isn’t being used, that is one thing.  But dividing students like this is a lesson Delaware doesn’t want to learn.  This is a recommendation from the Superintendent (even though it is an Acting Superintendent).  When Christina passed their referendum earlier this year one of their promises was to create programs like this.  I am all for better programs in schools.  But school choice has led to such severe competition among Delaware schools that future generations of adults are going to be more divided than ever between the haves and the have-nots.  We have traditional school districts, charter schools, vo-techs, magnet schools, honors programs, World Immersion programs, and so forth.  And I’m not even getting into the Pathways to Prosperity program and how that is setting up particular societal roles in the future.

How can we talk about equity in schools with a weighted funding system when we are forcing schools into that position?  We are killing education in this state, one choice program at a time.  I believe Christina is trying to rush a program like this into place.  Let it marinate a bit.  Look at other options.  Slow your roll!  I’m not convinced this isn’t a case where the Acting Superintendent who will be gone in a few months at most just wants a notch like this on his résumé.  I think something this big would need to still be in the discussion stage with a new Superintendent who would be tasked to carry it out.

And in the name of all that is holy can we please get the words rigor or rigorous legally banned from discussion about education?  As well, the word “Academy” in traditional school districts signifies something elite that only select students can get into.  Not a smart idea to put an “Academy” into a school district.

To read the action item, which will be read for a second time, please go below.

 

Let It Go! Christina Referendum Calls For Change From The Past

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Robert Andrzejewski, the Acting Superintendent for the Christina School District in Wilmington, led a battle cry last night to lift the district from their troubled past and send it to a bright future.

Hundreds of students, parents, educators, and citizens attended the Christina Referendum kick-off last night at Christiana High School.  The district wants to raise school taxes by 30 cents.  According to “Bob A”, the Acting Superintendent’s nick-name in New Castle County, the increase will result in an additional $16.2 million for the district allowing them to bring more quality resources to the district.  Bob A alluded to eventual magnet schools within the district.  In an apparent snafu, he said this would only cost taxpayers in the district an extra $300 a month or $15 a week.  Both are wrong, but we can put the blame on that towards Common Core which puts everyone’s math skills in serious jeopardy!

As Bob A talked about Christina escaping from his past, he brought up the movie “Frozen”.  He talked about “that song” and the main character, saying “What’s her name”?  Someone shouted “Elsa” which led Bob A to say “Yeah, Let It Go, Let It Go, Let It Go”.

Bob A railed on the current testing environment in Delaware during his speech, stating there is too much focus on testing and not enough on teaching to teach, which led to a round of applause from the audience.  Other highlights included a call for more vocational certificates to be issued from the district as more and more districts around the state incorporate co-op programs.

Senator Bryan Townsend attended the event, along with Braeden Mannering from 3B: Brae’s Brown Bags.  Board members Harrie Ellen Minnehan, Shirley Saffer, and John Young also attended.  There was a significant amount of energy which was missing in last year’s unfortunate two failed referendum attempts.  The referendum is on March 23rd.

Delaware Enrollment Preference Task Force Final Report Released Today

Coming in at 489 pages, this is a mammoth report!  I know Delaware State Representative Kim Williams has worked on this for a long time.  Congratulations to all the members of the task force for their hard work with this group.  I only managed to get to one of the meetings, but I really wish I could have gone to all of them.  This task force came out of Delaware House Bill 90.  Its mission was to take a very hard look at how Delaware charter schools, vocational schools, and magnet schools select their students.  I haven’t even been able to come close to finishing this, but it is well worth the time.

Key Audio Recording Links From State Board of Education Meeting Yesterday

Statewide Review of Educational Opportunities.  Wilmington Education Improvement Commission Redistricting Plan.  Christina Priority Schools.  Delaware Met.  All are here.  Please listen.  Please pay attention.  Listen to the words that are said by our unelected Governor appointed State Board of Education.  This meeting touched on most of the hot education issues of our state in one form or another.  Then email your state legislator politely requesting legislation for our State Board of Education to be elected officials.

WEIC Public Comment: Part 2

Statewide Review of Educational Opportunities: Part 3

WEIC Presentation to State Board: Part 5

Christina Priority Schools (about 1/3rd of the way in), Update on Opt-Out Penalties via ESEA Waiver Request with US DOE: Part 6

Delaware Met (starts about 1/3rd of the way in for Del Met) and Charter Renewals: Part 7

 

Statewide Review Of Education Opportunities Highlights Charter School Cherry-Picking & Creaming

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Among the other controversial and disturbing events at the Delaware State Board of Education meeting yesterday, there was a presentation by the Public Consulting Group (PCG) on the Statewide Review of Educational Opportunities (SREO) for Delaware Schools.  This was a review requested by Governor Jack Markell last March to figure out which schools are getting it right.  When it comes right down to it, this report was a series of graphs showing demographics of school districts and charters and which schools have things like AP classes and Career-Technical education opportunities.  All of this is based in 2014-2015 data.  This report cost Delaware taxpayers $70,000.00.

Last September, I worked with Delaware Liberal and Delaware First State in creating graphs of the Smarter Balanced Assessment results and how low-income, minorities, and students with disabilities fared poorly on the controversial test.  It also showed how schools with low populations of these sub-groups did really good on the test.

The below PCG reports clearly show the divide in Delaware, especially with certain charters in our state: Charter School of Wilmington, Newark Charter School, Delaware Military Academy, Odyssey Charter School, and Sussex Academy.  The result: complete chaos in Delaware.  While the effect of this is not as clearly felt in Kent County, it has created havoc in Wilmington and lower Sussex County.  If anyone actually believes the lotteries in these schools are random and fair, take a close look at the graphs in these reports.  They select, hand-pick and cherry-pick.  They cream from the top applicants.  And many charters in our state weed out the “bad” students by using their “counseling out” technique.  To some extent, the magnet schools in Red Clay and Indian River do this as well.

The reports give a well-crafted illusion that we have too many schools in Delaware.  This foregone conclusion is, in my opinion, trying to please the charter supporters in our state.  It talks about high demand and wait lists at certain charters and indicates there are too many “empty seats” in Delaware traditional schools.  Do not be fooled by this illusion.  Yes, some charters are in high demand because of the illusions cast by the State and the charter community on their perceived success based on standardized test scores.  I’m going to call this the “smart flight” as many parents pulled their kids out of traditional and even private schools over the past twenty years and sent their kids to charters.  This resulted in funds pouring out of the traditional districts while the state was slowly decreasing the amount they gave schools in the state.  This increased the amount of local dollars the districts had to use to run their schools.   Meanwhile, Common Core, Race To The Top, DSPT, DCAS, and the Smarter Balanced Assessment wormed their way into our lives causing even more funding to be siphoned from the classroom.  All of this created a perfect storm in Delaware culminating into a hurricane of inequity, discrimination, and segregation.  While Governor Markell did not influence these events twenty years ago, he certainly has been a major part of it for well over ten years, even before he became Governor.

This report could be read in many ways, but if I were reading as an outside observer looking into Delaware, I would be highly concerned.  We have charters with hardly any African-Americans and students with disabilities.  We have other charters with very high populations of the two.  We have a Department of Education, State Board of Education, and a General Assembly who allowed this to happen by falling asleep at the wheel.  We have the highly controversial Wilmington Education Improvement Commission attempting to redraw Wilmington school districts without guaranteed funding to support it.  We have companies like Rodel, the Longwood Foundation, and the Welfare Foundation pouring money into charters and influencing events behind the scenes and right in our faces.  We have key people in our state who are part of national education cabals molding education policy with the public oblivious to all of this.  We have outside companies coming into our state, taking our money, and creating reports on things we either already know or creating illusions designed to brainwash the populace.  This is Delaware education.

DOE Ignores Cherry-Picking In Statewide Review of Educational Opportunities Report To State Board

The Executive Director of the State Board of Education, Donna Johnson and Susan Haberstroh, in charge of Policy and External Affairs with the Delaware Department of Education, just presented a review of the Statewide Review of Educational Opportunities to the Delaware State Board of Education.  The report fails to mention all the schools in Delaware that have selective enrollment practices that results in not all students given the same educational opportunities.  Instead, they are focusing on some of the schools that practice this logic.  This review stemmed from House Bill 56, signed by Governor Markell earlier this year.  That legislation also put a pause on new charter school applications until this review was done.  Public Consulting Group is the vendor for this initiative.